Sciatica is a painful medical condition that’s caused when your sciatic nerve — the largest nerve in your body — gets compressed or irritated, causing pain anywhere from your lower back to your legs. Usually, just one branch of your sciatic nerve is affected, which is why you may only feel the pain on one side of your body. Dr. Bonaventure Ngu, a renowned orthopedic spine surgeon and founder of Premier Spine Institute, not only treats sciatica, but he gives guidance on how to prevent its return.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 85% of the time, sciatica is caused by a slipped or ruptured vertebral disc. Even if your doctor repairs your disc, if you don’t change your lifestyle and habits, you could injure the disc and your sciatic nerve again. In this blog, Dr. Ngu gives a few tips on how to keep your sciatica in the past where it belongs:
Throw out the cigarettes
Smoking doesn’t just damage your lungs. Smoking robs the tissues in your body, including your vertebral discs, of oxygen and nutrients. In fact, the nicotine in cigarettes can even damage the cells in your discs, making them more susceptible to ruptures and tears. And while smoking has a reputation of keeping you calm, it actually increases pain sensations, which is something you don’t want if you’re prone to sciatica.
Stand up straight
Your teachers, school nurses, and parents were right: Standing up straight not only makes you look better and more confident, it’s healthier, too. Your ears, shoulders, and hips should create one straight line to keep your spine and discs supported. Tuck in your buttocks, and keep your knees slightly bent.
If you have trouble with your posture, strengthen your core with crunches and exercises to beef up your abdominal and back muscles. Try a yoga class, tai chi, or pilates. Certain yoga poses, such as the pigeon pose, can also alleviate sciatica pain when it flares up.
Get moving and take rest breaks, too
Sitting down too long or standing for prolonged periods puts pressure on your spine that can irritate your discs and nerves. If you have a sit-down job, be sure to stand and move around vigorously for at least five minutes every half an hour. This will not only keep your sciatic nerve healthy, research shows it can prolong your life, too.
If you have to stand for your job, find a way to take a break. If you can’t sit, prop one foot on top of the other, use a footstool, or just shift your weight from time to time to give your legs a rest.
Take a snooze
In our 24/7 world, you may be tempted to cram in as much activity as you can every day. But your body and brain need time to recover from stress and injury.
Try to sleep on your side on a firm, but comfortable mattress. And try to get 6-9 hours of sleep every night. Follow these tips to get a good sleep nightly:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
- Sleep in a room that’s as dark as possible
- Keep the room’s temperature at 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit
- Block sounds with ear plugs and pink or white noise
When you have to lift heavy objects as part of your daily routine or job, squat before lifting, so that you’re lifting with your strong, large thigh muscles instead of your back muscles. Keep whatever you’re lifting close to your body to minimize stress.
If you’re overweight or obese, the extra pounds can put pressure on your lower back, which can lead to a slipped disc and aggravate your sciatica. Switching to a diet filled with vegetables and whole foods can help you shed the pounds while still feeling full. Nutrient-rich foods will also nourish your vertebral discs and nerves to keep them healthier longer.
Wear the right shoes
If you have sciatica, you shouldn’t wear shoes that compress your toes or put too much pressure on the balls of your feet.
Shop for comfort as well as style. Find shoes that support your arches and give your toes some wiggle room. Limit heel height to no more than 1.5 inches.
If you want to learn more about preventing sciatica, or if you’re in pain and want relief, book an appointment online or over the phone with Premier Spine Institute today.